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    . Gamehead Taxidermy Techniques

Gameheads of North America are among the most frequently mounted specimens in taxidermy. Their popularity is unsurpassed among both taxidermists and sportsmen alike. Deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope make up the vast majority of North American mounts, but bear, cougar, wild boar, caribou, mountain sheep and mountain goats are also popular subjects for gamehead display.

Whitetail deer pedestal mount by Scott LennardGamehead mounts usually include the shoulders, neck and head of the specimen. Most gameheads are mounted to be hung on a wall, but lately a more artistic presentation has been developed with the popularity of gamehead pedestal mounts, which incorporate artistic habitat displays in their composition. These freestanding mounts are meant to be viewed from 360 degrees.

Gamehead mounting technology has progressed enormously in the past two decades. Blue ribbon mounts from as little as ten years ago wouldn't even rate an honorable mention in today's tough taxidermy competitions. The mannikins have become much more lifelike, and today's supplies and technology have greatly improved the quality of work produced by experienced commercial taxidermists.

One of the main reasons for this increase in quality is the availability of good mannikins. Wildlife experts have painstakingly sculpted models which have taken weeks or even months to produce, yet urethane mannikins of these models are mass produced and are available for any taxidermist to use. They are offered in a wide variety of sizes and poses to fit almost any specimen. In the past, taxidermists had to actually construct each individual gamehead mannikin from scratch, using the natural skull, a wooden armature, and fillers. Then, he had to sculpt the muscle detail in clay or mache. Not only was this an inefficient and time-consuming process, but the results did not do justice to the live animal. Taxidermists have it much better today. Anatomically accurate mannikins have eliminated much of the drudgery which old time taxidermists endured.

For any gamehead mount, the taxidermist must begin by choosing a mannikin which matches the size, pose, and anatomical characteristics of the specimen. Each species will also exhibit a difference in anatomy and will require a specialized mannikin. Within the deer family, for example, there are numerous species such as whitetail deer, mule deer, blacktail deer, Florida key deer, fallow deer, axis deer and others, each with unique anatomical features. Even within a species, such as whitetail deer, there are numerous subspecies and regional families with different characteristics.

The skin is carefully removed from the specimen and preserved with chemicals or converted into leather (tanned). The mannkin is prepared by installing the natural antlers and glass eyes. The prepared skin is glued over the mannikin and adjusted to appear lifelike. The ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and antler burrs require special attention. The incision is sewn closed, the hair is groomed, and the mount is set aside to slowly dry.

One-half of a deer head mounted to show what's underneath the skin.After the mount has dried completely, the finishing process can begin. This will basically involve the restoration of natural color on any exposed skin and rebuilding any shrunken areas. There are many different methods for finishing a deer head, and no two taxidermists will use exactly the same techniques. To rebuild shrunken tissue, many taxidermists use colored waxes, while others prefer to use epoxy sculpting compounds. To restore color, some taxidermists use airbrush paints, others use artist's tube oil colors, while others use acrylic or even latex paints. A taxidermist may use different techniques from one deer to the next to compensate for the difference in natural coloration from deer to deer. Many taxidermists use a combination of techniques on a deer head, painting the ear interiors with an airbrush while finishing the lips, nose and eyes with oil paints and a brush.

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